French President Emmanuel Macron on January 10 defended his record on security, three months ahead of a presidential election in which the right-wing opposition has made public safety a key issue to tackle the incumbent.
Macron said some 10,000 police and other security jobs had been created since he took power in 2017 as part of his government’s efforts to step up the fight against illegal immigration, extremism and the drug trade.
He said his government was planning to raise France’s security budget by €5 billion ($17 billion) over the next five years, and promote on-the-spot fines for offences punishable by under one year in prison instead of jail time to simplify court proceedings.
“These past few years we have reinvested in our security just like we promised we would,” Macron told an audience in Nice, the French riviera city that was the scene of a jihadist attack in 2016.
“Everybody has a right to a quiet life and we will never give in when confronted with a lack of civic behaviour,” he said. “But of course that requires the necessary means, behaviour” Macron added.
“It’s our job and our calling to tirelessly improve things,” Macron said.
The president has not declared officially that he will seek a second term in the two-round election to be held in April.
But assuming that he will, conservative declared candidates are attacking him for alleged softness on crime, including right-wing hopeful Valerie Pecresse who is credited in polls with the best chance of beating Macron in any election runoff.
Last week, Pecresse said she would “clean out” crime-ridden French neighbourhoods “with a power hose”, employing a term infamously used by former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, adding that she would also “track down the gangs” if elected.
Macron’s measures flagged on January 10 also include plans for an additional 3,000 police officers deployed in the streets, a tripling of the maximum fine for street harassment to €300, higher numbers of investigators probing domestic violence and a doubling of the number of agents patrolling public transport.
Pecresse’s fellow right-winger Eric Ciotti, a member of Parliament for Nice and its surroundings, declined to meet with Macron, accusing him of using public money to finance an electioneering appearance.
Ciotti has called Macron’s legacy a “French Clockwork Orange”, a reference to a British novel and 1971 dystopian film about extreme violence of youth gangs.
Eric Zemmour, a far-right presidential candidate who is struggling to assemble the endorsements needed to stand, said Macron’s policies show he wants “a big fat powerless government in a country in constant conflict”.
And referring to Macron’s immigration policies, Zemmour added on Twitter: “What Macron likes is not a France with borders, but anarchy with policemen.”